Under The Stars – A Journey into Light by Matt Gaw: A Review

Under The Stars – A Journey into Light by Matt Gaw

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Sometimes you read a book that you can’t put down or one that you don’t want to end, it’s rare to find a book that does both of those things but Matt Gaw’s latest might just be that book.

 

The day my review copy arrived in the post I was by coincidence standing on my back door step at 2.30 in the morning waiting for my dog (he’s older and sometimes gets up in the night for a wee). I was marvelling at the fact that the streetlight that normally lights up our back garden was out (as are all the ones nearby since the local council decided that it could save money by turning them off between midnight and 4am), and that I could see a little more of the night sky than I perhaps normally would. This is one of the topics (light pollution not my dog) that the author covers so well. We’re so used to our artificial light that if you never miss something until it’s gone, how do you square the circle that when you remove artificial light there is so much more to see!?!

Matt Gaw takes this and more besides and goes out into the dark (and the light) to examine these issues in more detail. From how artificial light or a lack of darkness can affect not just us, but also the other inhabitants of our planet the wildlife, he goes to places such as Dartmoor where it’s darker and to the lights of London and his home town of Bury St. Edmunds. Comparing and contrasting these environments he writes eloquently about the beauty and dangers of the dark as well as the hazards of the light.

Like his last book, Matt also risks life and limb to bring this book to the reader, suffering for his art seems to be a particular hazard adventure for this author.

I really couldn’t put this book down at times and I suspect that perhaps the subject matter will not be one that many people will have thought that much about, but Under The Stars, is a book that could easily change all of that. Well written, with some stunning prose, his research with the right mix of historical facts and real life, it will make the reader think again about light and dark, and the night sky.

About the Author: Matt Gaw is a writer and naturalist who lives in Bury St. Edmunds with his young family. His first book is the highly acclaimed, The Pull of the River: A Journey into the Wild and Watery Heart of Britain [see my review here]. His journalism has been published in the Telegraph, Guardian, Times and BBC Countryfile Magazine and his broadcast credits include BBC1’s Countryfile, BBC Radio 4 Extra and BBC Radio 5 Live. He edits Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s magazine and runs nature writing workshops for children and adults. He also writes a monthly country diary for the Suffolk Magazine.

Under the Stars – A Journey into the Light is published in hardback on 20th February 2020 by Elliott & Thompson.

[Disclaimer: The publishers very kindly sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I have received no payment for this review, and the thoughts are my own.]

 

Muffin Talk TWTW # 61

Greetings from my writing desk, where this paperweight joined the other “stuff” that makes it a comfy place to work, even if it does tend towards the cluttered at times. It’s been a busy week – when is it not – I feel like I write that most weeks. I’ve been out of my office most days for one thing or another or had unexpectedly long phone calls take up more time than I’d allowed for them, but overall it’s been a good week. This coming week I expect I’ll be playing catch up a little bit, but I have less commitments out of the office, so that should work in my favour.


Nothing new on the work front this week, just pushing various projects for different clients forwards, and answering emails etc.


I’ve meant to mention that Last Exit To Nowhere still have a sale on. In my opinion their t-shirts and other clothing is pretty good. I’ve had a number of their t-shirts for getting on for 15 years and they’re still going. I bought some stuff from them earlier this month and it’s the same quality as it’s always been. You’ll need the code JAN2020 at checkout.

[I’ve not been asked or paid for this endorsement, I just like their stuff and you might too. Sale ends at the end of the month (I think).]


I’ve been reading Strange Practice  by Vivian Shaw, which is actually one of Ann’s books, and not something I would normally read, but it was okay and I’ll probably read the next two books that she has in the series. At the moment my tbr pile is getting very out of control and I really must enforce the “not buying any new books” rule that I’d planned to have this year, at least until the piles start to reduce some.

Not sure which of those will be up next.


I gave a garden talk this week to Hayling Island Horticultural Society, and baked courgette and red Leicester muffins for the audience for post talk discussions. I think the talk went down well as I had some nice compliments afterwards, and I know the muffins did because there were only crumbs left afterwards!

I also had a go at baking pumpkin muffins, but they didn’t go so well. Needed to be sweeter and have more spice in them, so better luck next time.



That’s about all for this week, I hope wherever you are you’re having a good one!

End of an Era TWTW # 60

Welcome back, thanks for stopping by. It’s been a crazy week in my world but probably not as crazy as the world at large seems to be.

In the same week a poll is telling the government that the majority (70%) of people want a net-zero carbon target for the UK, the same government bails out a regional airline by offsetting some of the environmental tax that they were supposed to be collecting from their passengers and saves them from going bust (at least for the time being). It seems that nothing has changed.


I’ve been focussed on work mostly this week, with trips to see clients including one to Somerset during one of the wettest days of the week. I managed to make time for a stop in my usual favourite place and went for a walk in the rain to get a sandwich. I saw a notice for the village museum which happened to be open that day so went there for a quick look. I was probably gone about 30 minutes, but when I got back to the car I noticed a small damp patch on the drivers seat. The source was obvious when I looked, there was a corresponding damp match next to the sun roof.

It had stopped raining by this point but there was nothing I could really do at that point, so I put a towel on the seat and tried to dry the roof as best as I could. Strangely although it rained a lot more that day, I didn’t have another problem.

The following day with the car in our garage and after watching a few YouTube videos I had a look at the drainage channels in the sunroof frame. One of them was actually blocked, but I managed to clear it with some wire. I’m not convinced that is the source of the problem as most of the videos I watched cite this as a common problem with this type of car, but they all say that this is the first thing to check. I’ll just have to wait now for it to rain again!


I did enjoy my visit though and the short time I spent in the village museum. I’m passing through there regularly at the moment, so I’ll probably stop there again at some point in the future. There are other things that I want to look at, if I have more time and if the weather is a little bit more cooperative!

 


I finally saw the latest Star Wars movie this week, although I won’t be posting spoilers as I’m sure that someone else might not have seen it yet, I have to say that I enjoyed it. Of all the nine movies, it’s not my favourite but I really did enjoy the way the story came together and some of the hat-tips to the other movies in the franchise. It does feel like the end of an era for me, which started when I was five years old and went to see Star Wars with my Dad (it wasn’t called A New Hope back then, just Star Wars).


I’ve been reading a few things this week, I touched on some of them in last weeks post, and one of the other books I can’t talk about just yet as it was a review copy from the publisher, but the review will be coming shortly. I’ve also been listening to the audiobook of The Martian by Andy Weir in the car, as well as trying to catch-up on some of the audio from the Christmas period that I haven’t listened to yet.


The allotment is still really too wet to do much, but I did pick up my seed potatoes from the allotment shop this week. Although they’re only seed potatoes they are large, and I’ve got about half what I normally would have for the same weight. I should be able to cut some of the really big ones in half, so should still get a reasonable number of plants.


Well that’s about all I have for this week. Hope you have a good one!


Time Flies TWTW # 59

Well where have the last few weeks gone? I’m not sure I really know if I’m honest. Taking a break from writing here over the Christmas period and into New Year means that I’m struggling a bit to get back into it if I’m honest. I did take some time off over that period, but I mostly kept moving forward with client work to make sure I stayed on top of some deadlines that are coming up (which so far I think I have). It means that I don’t really have that much to say other than perhaps Happy New Year, albeit somewhat belatedly.


I finished last year having read 72 books. This year I’ve set my bar a little lower, although I’m expecting to exceed it but I wanted to also create some space to write more and I’m also expecting to be a little busier with work (at least for the first few months), and a couple of other areas of my life don’t look like they’re going to be exactly quiet either.

I also didn’t get a lot of books for Christmas, which is a little unusual but actually welcome in some ways as I am hoping to tackle more of my vast catalogue of “books – to be read”. I did recently read Burma ’44: The Battle That Turned Britain’s War in the East by James Holland, and discovered something about the latter part of WWII that previously I knew nothing about. Other than that however it has been a particularly quiet start to the year on the reading front.


I’ve mentioned work in passing above and to say it continues a pace wouldn’t be an understatement. I’m probably busier at the moment, than I have been in the last five years since I went freelance.


Just a short one for now – I’m aiming to get back in the swing of things a bit more from next week.

Selected Best Bits of 2019 (Books, TV, Films)

2019 has been a bit of a mixed bag for me, it’s had some great highs and some very low lows. This post is however about the books, tv and films that I’ve enjoyed this year.

Books

GoodReads tells me that I’ve read 71 “books” this year. There are a few short stories and novellas in there, as well as several Maigret novels which are quite short, and a few audiobooks, but I’d say I read more than my target of 30 books that I set at the start of the year. So what were the highlights? Well I’ve already mentioned the Maigret novels. That started out following a gift during Christmas 2018 and has run through the year, and will continue into 2020, there have been many Maigret’s and all are good – some better than others – and they very much became a staple part of my library. Beyond that those that stood out include:

Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells by Pico Iyer – autobiographical and set mostly in Japan, this was a wonderful and melancholy look at the authors life.

Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane Many years in the writing this book is both claustrophobic and mind expanding and takes the reader on a tour of the places beneath our feet from the Mendips to the catacombs of Paris.

The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting Another present and originally written in Norwegian. This novel tells the story of Edvard as he tries to unravel the mystery of his dead parents, his grandfather’s brother.

Audiobooks

I’ve done quite a bit of travelling this year, and I’ve taken audiobooks with me on almost all of my longer journeys. The ones that I’ve enjoyed the most were:

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong – we’re full of microbes and probably wouldn’t be able to survive without some of them, this is just fascinating.

Darwin Comes to Town by Menno Schilthuizen – wonderful stories of the species that have become adapted to the presence of man and our encroachment on the natural world.

Jaguars Ripped My Flesh by Tim Cahill – hilarious stories of the authors travels around the world in pursuit of some of the stories he wrote for Outside magazine and other publications. Laugh out loud at times.

Movies / TV

I’ve made a couple of trips to the cinema this year, both for Marvel movies – Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame. We’ve also made quite a bit of use of our Amazon Prime membership and in particular we’ve enjoyed Good Omens, Bosch Season 5 and Jack Ryan Season 2.

Beyond that it’s difficult to pick out anything that stands out, I’ve dissapointed with a number of things that looked like they were going to be good, even started well, but then went downhill rapidly.

I’m looking forward to seeing the new Star Wars movie (probably in the New Year, once the kids are safely back at school), and also Star Trek: Picard and Bosch Season 6.

TWTW # 58

I’ve been head down working all week and as a consequence have very little else to write about. So I’m going to take a break until the New Year.

Wishing you compliments of the season, see you in 2020.


 

All Work and No….Well You Know What I Mean TWTW # 57

I’ve tried to write this post several times. Each time I’ve wanted to rant about the General Election. I’ve  just tried to write about it again, but I can’t. I just can’t


So in more positive news, I’ve managed to secure client work, that if I’ve got my timetabling right will take me through to nearly the end of February. One item fell off of the list but was replaced by something else. So work looks like it’s going to be busy. It might mean that these posts also get a bit curtailed over the coming weeks, including this one.


Outside of work I’ve not done a tremendous amount else really. I did manage to read Past Tense by Lee Child over a couple of nights. It’s unusual for me to be able to stay awake long enough to read very much in the evenings, even more so as it just felt like the author was going through the motions. It did cross my mind that there were at least another 100-pages that might have been in an earlier manuscript that got ditched at some point during the editing process, a storyline that never played out. Who knows. It won’t be making my favourite books of the year (if I get around to writing about it this side of Easter 2020).

I’ve been making a conscious effort to try and read some of the books that have been on my shelves for a while, and to not buy too many “new” books. Partly this is to try and create some space but also it seems daft to have so many books sitting there that I haven’t read yet. I don’t mind having lots of books, but it would be nice to think that I’ve actually read some of them!


I’ve been continuing to listen to The Whisperer In Darkness this week. The next three episodes were released on Monday and the reminder are due to be released this Monday (today as far as the posting of this goes). I’ve been really enjoying it. The series writer Julian Simpson, posted a little bit about the research that sits behind the episodes this week which you can read here. You can also find an iTunes link to the episodes in that post, if you haven’t been able to make the BBC website work for you.


I’m also looking forward to some of the radio that’s on over the Christmas period. I picked up a copy of the Christmas Radio Times in the week, and I have to say that there is bugger-all on television over the Christmas period, but the radio section looks pretty good.


Right that’s it for this week. Off to Somerset for client meetings this coming week, but otherwise I’m at my desk, nose down for the remainder.

Big Sunrises TWTW # 56

Hello! The morning light this week has been pretty amazing. I’ve been up early several times and enjoyed the sunrise. It’s also been an exceptionally busy and stressful week. A lot of family things happening with a backdrop of work, client meetings and associated craziness.

I’m glad I went ahead and made a start getting my new laptop set up, and if nothing else I am completely amazed by the battery life. Since I went freelance, I’ve never really had an “office” as such. The closest I get is my desks at home, but I’ll pretty much work wherever I have to. This week in particular I’ve been on the road and working from some unusual places. The laptop battery has kept going throughout, only needing to charge when I did get back home. The manufacturers quoted life is 13 hours and that doesn’t seem to be far off the mark.

The only tech downside this week has been the demise of my old printer. I don’t use one much but I do need one, and I’ve had to replace my old one for a newer model. Essentially the same machine, just with the current spec.


We watched the film Yesterday over the weekend. I think it’s a bit of a marmite film. I really enjoyed it, but Ann hated it. The premise of the film is that after a global power blackout no one except musician Jack Mailk – who had an accident at the exact moment of the blackout – can remember The Beatles or their music. When he realises this Jack uses his knowledge to become the next big thing by releasing the music of The Beatles himself. As I said you’ll probably either love it or hate it, but I think it’s worth a watch.


David Quammen’s blog has been active again with a couple of posts: Sphinx and Loss, Birds & Hope


On my travels this week I’ve mostly been listening to Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C Clarke. As old and probably classic science fiction it was a great listen, I also have the second book in the series and have just started that.

I’ve also been listening to the first three episodes of The Whisperer in Darkness which I mentioned last week, and it’s got me hooked. Looking forward to the next instalments when they drop later on. The title, some of the characters and storyline are based on the H P Lovecraft short story of the same name, and I’ve been reading that on my kindle, but otherwise my reading has been a bit sporadic this week, I’ve been busy most of the time, and haven’t found the opportunity to really get into another book yet, so short stories are just my thing.


There seem to have been a lot of movie trailers or teasers dropped on the internet this week, here are a few of my favourites:


Because of the way YouTubes algorithms work, it also suggested the upload below, showing various camera angles of the bike stunt in the trailer and the Aston Martin chase scene.


Work this week has been a tale of the present and the future. I’ve been working on current client work this week, and have had a couple of potential projects come forward that would take me through to the end of the year and possibly towards the end of January. At one point I thought that I was going to have more work than I had days in January. It’s nice to be in such demand, I just need to make sure that I deliver against the tasks.


I managed to set a few hours in on the allotment on Saturday, the first time I’ve spent any significant time there for a couple of weeks. The weather and other commitments have kept me away, so it was good to back there. I’ve had a tarpaulin down to keep an area dry so that even in the worst of the rain it doesn’t become too swampy. It’s a simple deal, put the tarp down and leave until ready, then pull the tarp back and dig the space that was covered. Once you’re down move the tarp to the next area to dig and leave for a couple of weeks (if it’s been really wet) and then repeat the process. Next weekend, weather permitting I’ll put some manure down on the area I’ve just dug and then dig the new area the following week. Following that cycle for another month or so and the remainder of the plot will have been dug over and be ready for the new growing season.


I’m planning to do some annual review posts if the time allows; books, films, tv programmes, podcasts etc. I think I’ll either post them separately or possibly do one topic a week for the next couple of weeks (assuming that it doesn’t make this posts any longer than they already are).


There’s a General Election in the week ahead and I’m pretty much working flat out to get things done and play a little bit of catch up on this week just gone. If you’re in the UK then please get out and vote on Thursday, even if you think your vote won’t make a difference, don’t be the person where it does and you didn’t.

Socks of the Cthulhu TWTW # 55

Greetings from a new computer. I bit the bullet this week and ordered the replacement laptop that will hopefully take me through the next few years of work and life related technology.

I’ve still got lots of setup to do with it and files to transfer but I’m in no hurry, I was planning to do most of that in the break between Christmas and New Year, but I’ve done the basics for now, so if there were to be a failure of my old machine I’d have this one ready to go. It does seem that whatever you buy though the newer machines never come with as much “stuff” as the older versions. Less ports, no CD drive, pushing you ever further away from the analogue and more towards the digital. I’m not sure I like that so much. I like having my music collection on a hard copy format, I still have a lot of CDs, audio cassettes and vinyl. My preferences has been the CD for many years now, and I’m not sure that I want to switch to anything else. It’s the same with books. I like my kindle but I like to have anything I want to keep and treasure as a real book; paper, card and ink that I can touch and feel.

Don’t get me wrong I like the form factor of this new machine, it’s small, light and compact, but in many ways I’d settle for a fountain pen and paper any day.


In addition to the new laptop I’ve also been doing a bit of Christmas shopping, about a 50:50 split between online and physically from the shops. I’ve still a bit to do but it’s early yet, I don’t think I’ve been this far advanced ever before, even though I’m not a last minute shopper at this time of year anyway.


Two greats passed away this week, Clive James and Johnathon Miller both lost to horrible illnesses. “Saturday Night Clive” was a bit of a staple of my teenage years, and the stories of his escapades in homemade go-karts from his “Unreliable Memoirs” still remain in my memory today.


Austin Kleon on healthcare


I’ve not been travelling much this week, so my listening time has been more suited to podcasts and other shorter form audio. Next week sees the launch of The Whisperer in Darkness, which is a follow up to The Mysterious Case of Charles Dexter Ward. These are both titles of stories from H P Lovecraft, but have been retold in a modern setting as radio plays written by Julian Simpson and broadcast on the BBC. You can listen to them here. I’ve been re-listening to The Mysterious Case of Charles Dexter Ward this week as The Whisperer in Darkness launches on December 2nd, so it should be available when you read this. I’ve listened to the trailer for The Whisperer and although you can probably listen to it as a standalone, it might be worth listening to Charles Dexter Ward first.


On the subject of radio, it looks as if Neil Gaiman’s Playing In The Dark which was recorded earlier this year will be broadcast just before Christmas on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4. It’s scheduled for Radio 3 on December 23rd here, and Radio 4 on Christmas Day (although the latter is an edited version). I haven’t seen or heard any previews but the author has written about it on his blog here.

He has also written about the stage production of his book The Ocean At The End of The Lane here, which is also well worth a read if you haven’t already.


I stopped at the library this week with the intention of checking out some books to read, instead I ended up buying some books from their sale stock – books that have been withdrawn from their lending stock. It struck me that actually there was nothing wrong with the books that I bought and that they were very cheap (£1.60 for these four). As soon as the general election is over there is going to be a consultation on the future of our local libraries, and there is much talk about the savings that the council needs to achieve and that libraries are an obvious target for budget reductions. Not much detail is available yet, but we’ll see what the consultation brings when it’s available. I’m hoping that it doesn’t get buried under the seasonal festivities.


Speaking of H P Lovecraft, from a certain angle my Christmas socks seem to have a rather Cthulhu-esque look to them.

I’m on the road a bit more this week, with some trips to Somerset and other places, so until next week, have a good one.